Concerning Connection Identified: Concussion-Related Suicide Risk in Adolescents

by Amir Hussein
Concussion-related suicide risk

Recent investigations have revealed a disturbing correlation between concussions and an increased likelihood of suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts in high school students. This risk escalates with each additional concussion. This pioneering study, examining a national cohort, underscores the importance of mental health assessments for young people suffering from concussions. Notable observations include a higher incidence of concussions in boys, increased instances of sadness and suicidal tendencies in girls, and a scarcity of research in this area concerning young individuals.

The study, including contributions from a University of Michigan researcher, found that high school boys with one or more concussions in the previous year were more prone to suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts than their counterparts without a concussion history.

Males with two or more concussions within a year were doubly likely to report a suicide attempt compared to those with just one concussion. For girls, the probability of suicidal behavior was significantly raised, regardless of the number of concussions.

“Discussing this type of research is always challenging, but it’s critical for identifying at-risk individuals and understanding the reasons behind this,” stated Steve Broglio, co-author of the study, professor of kinesiology, and director at the University of Michigan Concussion Center. “Anyone concerned about a student-athlete should actively seek appropriate support resources.”

Pioneering Research

This is presumably the first study of its kind to analyze the link between suicidal behavior and the frequency of concussions in a nationally representative sample of American high school students.

Jacob Kay, the study’s lead author and a rehabilitation scientist at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital and the University of South Carolina, stated, “We’re aware from broader studies that brain injuries, including concussions, can trigger or worsen mental health issues. Our research further emphasizes the necessity of mental health evaluations for both male and female youths who have experienced a concussion, particularly those with multiple incidents in a short period.”

Principal Insights of the Study

Other significant findings include:

15% of students reported one or more concussions, and 6% reported multiple concussions in the past year.
17% of boys and 13% of girls reported at least one concussion in the past year.
44% of girls and 24% of boys reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
24% of girls and 13% of boys reported suicidal thoughts.
19% of girls and 10% of boys reported planning suicide.
10% of girls and 5% of boys reported attempting suicide.
3% of girls and 1% of boys reported injuries from a suicide attempt.
Healthcare professionals are advised to rigorously assess and monitor the mental health of youths, especially those with recent repetitive concussions.

Gender Differences and Consequences

Kay noted that females might experience more challenges post-concussion. Biological and sociocultural factors could explain observed gender differences, which are not fully understood yet. While caution is advised in drawing definitive conclusions from this study, the authors suggest that males may exhibit more impulsive suicidal behaviors.

Kay also highlighted the often “silent struggle” faced by males in terms of mental health.

“In the context of concussions, this could mean that males showing intent for self-harm might exhibit fewer warning signs,” he added.

The link between concussions and mental health, particularly in youth, is an area of growing interest but remains under-researched. This study aimed to explore this association by examining concussion frequency and mental health outcomes in biological male and female high school students, analyzing data from 17,397 respondents from the 2017 and 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

Reference: “Concussion Exposure and Suicidal Ideation, Planning, and Attempts Among US High School Students” by Jacob J. M. Kay, Colt A. Coffman, Adam Harrison, Abbas S. Tavakoli, Toni M. Torres-McGehee, Steven P. Broglio and Robert Davis Moore, published on 16 November 2023 in the Journal of Athletic Training.
DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-0117.22

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Concussion-related suicide risk

What is the main finding of the recent study on concussions in high school students?

The study found that high school students who have experienced concussions in the past year are more likely to have suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts. The risk increases with the number of concussions, with notable differences observed between male and female students.

How does the risk of suicide change with the number of concussions?

The risk of suicidal behavior, including thoughts, planning, or attempts, escalates with each additional concussion. Specifically, boys with two or more concussions were found to be twice as likely to report a suicide attempt compared to those with a single concussion.

What are some key gender differences noted in the study regarding concussions and suicide risk?

The study highlighted that males reported higher rates of concussions, while females exhibited more frequent sadness and suicidal behavior. Additionally, it suggested that males may exhibit suicidal behaviors in a more impulsive manner.

What does the study suggest about mental health evaluations for youth with concussions?

The study emphasizes the importance of conducting mental health evaluations for youths who have sustained concussions, particularly for those who have experienced multiple concussions in a short period.

Is this study the first of its kind?

Yes, this study is believed to be the first to examine the relationship between concussion frequency and suicidal behaviors in a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students.

What are the recommendations for healthcare professionals regarding youth with concussions?

Healthcare professionals are advised to closely evaluate and monitor the mental health of youths, especially those with a recent history of repetitive concussions, to effectively address and manage the associated risks.

More about Concussion-related suicide risk

  • Concussion and Suicide Risk Study: For the original research article detailing the link between concussions and suicide risk in high school students.
  • University of Michigan Concussion Center: For more information about the center and its ongoing research into concussion impacts.
  • National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: To explore the data source used in the study.
  • Adolescent Mental Health Resources: For resources and information on mental health support for adolescents.
  • Concussion Management in Youths: For guidelines and best practices in managing concussions in young athletes and students.

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Jake M. November 18, 2023 - 5:18 pm

wow, this is really an eye opener! never thought concussions could be this serious in kids, especially with suicide risk. scary stuff…

Sara J. November 18, 2023 - 5:34 pm

I read about this study, its really concerning. i hope it leads to better protocols in schools for concussion management. we gotta protect our young athletes.

MarkusV November 19, 2023 - 12:13 pm

Concussion research is so important, glad to see studies like this. but i think theres more to explore, especially in how we support these kids mental health…

Emily R. November 19, 2023 - 1:36 pm

its interesting to see the gender differences, like how girls have more emotional struggles after a concussion. makes you wonder about how we handle sports injuries in schools?


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